A Quick Way to Identify Common Insect Orders

Authors: Ryan Hill and Nicole VanderSal, with contributions by Pete Oboyski, Joe Spagna, and Jen Skene

Introduction: This Powerpoint presentation is used as part of a lesson on how to quickly identify some common insect orders using "spot ID" characters. The spot ID characters are meant to be easy and illustrate the obvious things to look for that separate the common insect orders that students might encounter during field trips, around their campus, or that they may already have experience with. When we've used this presentation in classroom lessons, we have the students fill out a worksheet (Word document).

Lesson protocol:

  1. Students listen to the teacher tell the scientific name of the insect order, explaining what the root means. They write the name down in the spaces provided on the worksheet.

  2. Students look at the pictures on the screen for each order and make an observation about the morphology of the insects they see. This can be led by the teacher so the students focus on morphology likely to be unique.

  3. Students write down the spot ID character identified and compare that with what they observed. Did they match up?

  4. Because we have had access to several boxes of pinned insects, we ask the students to find specimens of a certain order after they learn the spot ID characters. We put numbered tags on the insects and ask the students to write down the number of the specimen(s) they think belong to each order. This allows for instant application of the newly acquired knowledge, as well as review. If a pinned insect collection is not available to the class, a good idea would be to collect and curate your own and use this to help the students learn to identify insects. Both the Powerpoint presentation and worksheet can, and should, be modified to suit individual needs.